a / an
Both a and an are indefinite articles that modify a singular noun. The sole difference between them has to do with the initial sound of the word that immediately follows the article: a precedes a consonant sound, and an precedes a vowel sound. Basic patterns:
a banana, a cat, a devoted friend, an apple, an egg, an item on the shelf
- Special problems occur when the initial letter and the initial sound of the following word do not follow the expected pattern. One example is a consonant that is not pronounced: an hour (cf. a house); an Yves St. Laurent shirt (cf. a yellow shirt)
- The words history and historic pose a common problem: In American English the h is vocalized as a consonant; thus a history, a historic moment (not an historic moment).
- Acronyms pose a similar set of questions in deciding between a and an. The first sound one hears in pronouncing the acronym determines which article to use: an FBI probe, an RRQ article (because these acronyms begin with vowel sounds /e/ and /a/); a BBC broadcast, a U.S. citizen (because these acronyms begin with consonant sounds /b/ and /y/).
- list of common abbreviations
- abbreviations, general rules
- abbreviations, Australian states and territories
- abbreviations, Canadian provinces
- abbreviations, in reference lists, tables, and parentheses
- abbreviations, in text matter
- abbreviations, U.S. postal standards
- abbreviations, U.S. states and territories
- acronyms and initialisms
ABC (not abc)
aboriginal (see indigenous peoples)
An absolute adjective is one that cannot logically be intensified or compared. Common examples include pregnant, unique, equal, essential, eternal, and dead. Only in the most ironic or figurative sense can someone be described as "slightly pregnant" or "extremely dead." Likewise, one object cannot logically be "more eternal" than another, and the saying "some people are 'more equal' than others" makes sense only as a figure of speech. Unique is another good example: Because this word means "one of a kind," such phrases as "very unique" make little sense.
acknowledgment (no e after the g)
acronyms and initialisms
ADD = attention-deficit disorder
add-on (adj. or n. Verb is add on)
addresses (see address standards)
- Post office style. This style should be used on mailing labels, envelopes, and other items for which post office style is requested. All uppercase. Use standard two-letter abbreviations for states and Canadian provinces; use standard postal service abbreviations for directions, street designations. Use no periods, commas, or other punctuation marks except a hyphen between zip and +4 codes. Note the following example:
INTERNATIONAL LITERACY ASSOCIATION
800 BARKSDALE RD
PO BOX 8139
NEWARK DE 19714-8139 USA
- List or column style. This style is commonly used in lists, directories, promotional material, and other nonmailable items for which post office style is not required. Initial caps only, with or without abbreviations (abbreviations—except for two-letter state or provincial designations and the abbreviations USA and PO—are normally followed by a period). Each portion of the address begins a new line, usually flush left. Note the following example:
International Literacy Association
800 Barksdale Rd.
PO Box 8139
Newark, DE 19714-8139, USA
- Run-in style. This style is used when an address is incorporated in running text, rather than set apart from it. Similar to list style, above, except that portions of the address are separated by commas. Note the following example:For more information, please call 302-731-1600, extension 293, or write to the Public Information Office, International Literacy Association, 800 Barksdale Road, PO Box 8139, Newark, DE 19714-8139, USA.
- International Styles
ADHD = attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder
ad hoc (no hyphen, italic, or underline)
ad hominem (no hyphen, italic, or underline)
ad infinitum (no hyphen, italic, or underline)
An adjective is a word or group of words that modifies a noun. In the examples that follow, the noun is underlined and the adjective or adjective phrase is in italics.
|single word ||basic instruction |
|article ||an instructor |
|hyphenated phrase ||well-chosen comments |
|prepositional phrase ||teacher of reading |
|subordinate clause ||organization that promotes literacy |
|multiple modifiers ||a middle school that opened in 1922 in Chicago. |
administration / Administration
According to Webster's New World Dictionary (WNWD), this word may be capitalized when used in reference to a presidency. Our standard should be lowercase, with the capped form used only where necessary to avoid confusion: "Under Jefferson's administration the powers of the presidency were expanded." But "During Wilson's presidency, members of Congress denounced Administration efforts to get the United States involved in the 'European war.'"
*Note that administration is also capitalized when used in a proper name (e.g., the Food and Drug Administration).
African American (no hyphen, even as an adjective)
AFT = American Federation of Teachers
after-hours (hyphenate this temporary compound as an adjective preceding its noun)
after-school program (hyphenate the adjective when it precedes its noun; otherwise, leave open)
afterward (adv.; not afterwards)
afterword (n., part of a book)
aged / ages
Our sample comprised 100 children ages 5–9. (not aged 5–9)
- Use numerals to denote ages, even those below 10. Theresa is 8 years old; Bonnie is 18.
- Adjective constructions are hyphenated before the noun they modify: 7- and 8-year-old students. APA 6th, 4.13, also calls for hyphenating noun constructions: 9-year-olds.
- Decades printed in numeral form do not use apostrophes: a man in his 90s; a woman in her mid-30s
aide / aid
- Aide is a noun referring to a person who assists. Thus, a nurse's aide is someone who assists a nurse, and a teacher's aide is a person who assists a teacher.
- Aid can be any of the following:
- a verb meaning "to help or give assistance." Example: Jane Fonda is sometimes accused of aiding the enemy during the Vietnam War.
- a noun meaning "help or assistance." Example: Giving aid and comfort to an enemy is sometimes considered an act of treason.
- a noun meaning "a tool, a help, or an object that provides assistance." Example: A carefully assembled set of class notes can be a valuable aid in preparing for a final exam.
ALA = American Library Association
Alcatraz (not Alcatraz Island, per WNWD)
all right / alright
These two words are synonymous but not completely interchangeable: Alright has been considered nonstandard, and is listed in WNWD as the disputed spelling. Editors and writers of Association materials should reserve alright for only the most informal contexts. CMS 15th, 5.202 says to avoid alright entirely.
all together / altogether
All together means everyone or everything in one place, or all of one mind. Altogether is an adverb meaning "completely."
already / all ready
- Already is an adverb meaning "before now," or "by this time."
Example: She has already finished reading David Copperfield.
- All ready is an adjective phrase meaning "completely prepared."
Example: Having studied carefully, Elise is all ready for the test.
ALSC = Association for Library Service to Children (a division of ALA)
although / though
These words are synonymous.
although / while
Though while is often used in the sense of "although," such usage may result in ambiguity. Use while in this sense only if its meaning is unlikely to be mistaken for "at the same time."
a.m., p.m. (lowercase or small caps, with periods)
America / American
In the United States, these words have been used widely and uncritically as synonyms for the United States and "of the United States." This usage may be offensive to people of other North, Central, or South American nations who also view themselves as American. Authors and editors should use tact and discretion in employing these terms and consider whether other, less provocative, terms would serve better.
the America Reads Challenge
American Federation of Teachers = AFT
American Library Association = ALA
American Sign Language = ASL
among (see between)
AMOS (programming language)
amount / number
Use number for masses whose components can be counted. Use amount for masses whose components cannot be counted. Similar rules govern the use of many/much, over/more than, and fewer/less.
- A large number of bills and coins
- A large amount of money
- A number of different subjects
- A large amount of information
- A number of bushels of apples
- A certain amount of fruit
- In text matter other than parenthetical citations, ampersand (&), meaning "and," should not be used except as part of a formal company name (Harper & Row) or periodical title (Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy). Thus, according to Downes and Miller (2003), that research should never have been published by Harper & Row.
- In reference lists and parenthetical citations, an ampersand is used between joint authors or editors of a book, article, and so forth, or, in cases of three or more authors or editors, between the last two in the sequence (see reference list).
ANCOVA = Analysis of covariance. Results are expressed in an equation of the following form:
F(1, 63) = 4.93, p < .001
and / or
Use and/or only in casual writing. In some constructions, and/or is ambiguous:
a, b, and/or c can mean a + b + c, or a + (b or c) or (a or b) + c.
CMS 15th, 5.202 says to avoid entirely.
annual convention (see convention / Convention)
ANOVA = Analysis of variance. Results are expressed in an equation of the following form:
F(2, 83) = 8.80, p < .001
Compounds formed with the prefix anti- are normally closed (CMS 15th, 7.90):
anticlimax, antisocial, antihero, antithesis
antisemitic (preferred over anti-Semitic; see Copy Editor, December 1997–January 1998, pp. 1, 7)
apostrophe, general rules (CMS 15th, 7.19–7.23)
apostrophes and contractions
In a contraction, the apostrophe is placed where the letter(s) or numeral(s) have been elided. Example: "I can't understand why this book isn't required reading for all sixth graders." Note that in dates, any elided numerals are replaced by a single closed (curly) quote--the class of '97--not a prime (') or a single open quote (‘).
apostrophes and plurals
- Do not use an apostrophe to form the plural of any noun:
|incorrect ||correct |
|a dozen piano's ||a dozen pianos |
|a pound of potato's ||a pound of potatoes |
|the Smith's and the Jones' ||the Smiths and the Joneses |
- Use apostrophes to form plurals only of letters used as words, where omission of the apostrophe would cause misreading. Examples: "How many A's did Christine receive last marking period? How many Fs?" "How many I's are in the word Mississippi?"
apostrophes and possessives
- The possessive form of most singular nouns is formed by adding an apostrophe + s. Examples: a book's cover; a horse's mouth; a word's derivation; Charles's journal; a year's study
- The possessive of plural nouns that end in s is formed by adding an apostrophe after the s.The possessive of plural nouns that do not end in s is formed by adding an s + apostrophe. Examples: the bees' hive; the words' meanings; 2 years' study.
- Elaboration of and exceptions to these rules may be found in CMS 15th, 7.19–7.27.
apostrophes and primes
In printed matter, do not confuse a prime ' for an apostrophe '. A prime is commonly used as a symbol of measurement (6' = 6 feet) or as a sign in mathematical text. For all the uses specified above, be sure you're using the "closed, single curly-quote," otherwise known as an apostrophe.
appendixes (not appendices)
Following the standard for software programs, names of applications or "apps" are set in title-style caps, no italics, no quotation marks. Lowercase "a" in "app." Examples: Trading Card app, Sight Words Flash Cards app
a priori (no hyphen, italic, or underline)
apropos (no italic or underline)
The acronym ARA may stand for any of the following: Alabama Reading Association; Arizona Reading Association; Arkansas Reading Association; Austrian Reading Association. Use the acronym only when the context makes clear which organization is meant.
as / like (see like / as)
ASCD = Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (as of August 2010, ascd.org indicates that ASCD is the official name; use over spelled-out form)
ASL = American Sign Language
as long as / so long as
According to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage (M-WDEU), the subordinating constructions "as long as" and "so long as," used in the sense of "provided," are interchangeable and roughly equal in frequency. Thus, "I will wait as long as I can; but so long as you continue to love someone else, I cannot promise to wait forever."
The construction assist someone to (assist + direct object + infinitive) is nonstandard usage and should be avoided. Instead, use assist + direct object + in + gerund.) Thus the sentence "This book will assist teachers to create an open classroom" should be "This book will assist teachers in creating an open classroom."
Association for Library Service to Children (a division of ALA) = ALSC
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development = ASCD (as of August 2010, ascd.org indicates that ASCD is the official name; use over spelled-out form)
attention-deficit disorder = ADD
attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder = ADHD
audiovisual (see AV)
Australia, states (see abbreviations)
AV (see audiovisual)